Stealing the fruits of their laborPublished 10:36pm Tuesday, August 10, 2010
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
It was just a little more than three months ago when members of Niles residents began tilling the soil just outside the Niles Community Schools Westside Administration Building, one of the sites of community gardens being cultivated throughout the city.
A community garden is a piece of land in which members of the community can pay for a plot and grow whatever produce they wish. Members of that community work together to cultivate the garden.
Now, a tour through any one of those gardens will show the power a collective group of green thumbs can have.
The program was started with several goals in mind including educating interested members of the community on gardening and encouraging the growing and consumption of local produce. The program itself seems to be achieving those goals.
“We’ve had really good success,” said Jan Personette, active member, organizer and gardener. “Our gardens are growing well.”
But members of Niles Community Gardens recently presented to city officials an unexpected problem.
“At Westside and at Ferry Street (gardens), we’ve had people just come in and take (food) and they’re not gardeners,” Personette said.
In one case, she said, one crop should have yielded nearly 160 ears of corn but when members went to harvest, that number was down to “maybe 40″ after someone had stolen the rest.
“It’s an issue,” Personette said.
How to handle the problem is something officials and members of the program aren’t quite sure of just yet.
Currently, organizers are looking into neighboring communities with community gardens that might have run into the same problem in hopes of finding out possible solutions.
Community Development Director Juan Ganum said the problem could be part educational or just a matter of someone taking what does not belong to them.
“It’s the fruits of their labor being stolen,” Ganum said. “They’re toiling away by planting, weeding and harvesting. If someone steals the fruits of their labor before they harvest, what are they left with?”
A lot of frustration.
Personette hopes in addressing the issue, gardeners won’t be scared off because of the problem and will continue to contribute.
Growers with leftover produce can choose to leave it for other gardeners or donate it to local food pantries — something Personette said is being done often by gardeners of Niles Community Gardens.
Food is being donated to the Niles Salvation Army and the Christian Service Center, she said.
The food grown in each of these gardens is at the gardener’s expense. Anyone interesting in taking part still can, Personette said. A minimum $5 donation and some work among the crops is all that’s required.
“If anybody were interested — and I think a lot of people were sitting back to see how this went — there’s still work to do in the garden,” she said. “I call it sweat equity. If you put some blood, sweat and tears into this you’re going to take care of it, you’re going to take ownership.”
Those who are interested in learning more can contact the Niles Community Gardens at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Personette at (269) 362-1946 or 683-5292.